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Notes on the Bearable Lightness of Being

Dilip Gaonkar and Keith Topper

Her Flying Red Shoes (2012). Via Wikimedia Commons.

In political inquiry, as in intellectual inquiry more generally, advances in under- standing come in a variety of shapes and sizes, emerge from disparate routes, and occur through different strategies. As Thomas Kuhn has famously argued, advances sometimes occur through the application of “problem-solving” techniques. These techniques, Kuhn observed, are most commonly employed in fields of scientific inquiry where wide agreement already exists about what counts as a problem and what counts as a solution to some problem.1 The hope, and in some cases the expectation, is to bring an end to disputes about a particular problem, phenomenon, or state of affairs. By advancing powerful considerations and arguments, by adducing strong empirical evidence, or by devising new instruments and methods of analysis that enhance one’s ability to observe and measure more precisely the phenomenon to be explained, the problem solver strives simultaneously to command agreement and foreclose, as much as possible, future disagreement.

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